You should follow a low-fat diet! No wait, fat is good for you – eat up! Actually, only eat some fats, so make sure you choose the right ones! Now only eat plant-based fats! Forget that, don’t eat fat at all! There is so much information out there regarding fat in our diet, what’s good and what’s bad, which types and how much. How does the average gal know how to decipher it and who to trust? I’ve been confused on this issue myself, so I’ve done some research and spoken to some Dietitians who have helped me sort it all out. So, read on to find out the difference between good and bad fats, and which fats we should be including in our diets.
Why should I be concerned about fats?
Some of the major health problems in our society, such as obesity and heart disease, can be directly affected by the fat content in our diet. Because fat is so energy dense (it gives over twice as many calories per gram than carbohydrate and protein) eating too much of it can lead to weight gain. Also, fats have a direct effect on the cholesterol levels in our body. This effect can be positive or negative, depending on the type of fats we eat.
Should I eat fat?
Fat is an essential part of our diets. Fats provides us with essential fatty acids (like Omega-3), fat soluble vitamins (Vitamin A,D,E and K) and they are an important source of energy. However, as with anything too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, so make sure you eat it in moderation. Fats are also beneficial as they release hormones in the body that stimulate feelings of fullness, meaning you will feel more satisfied after a meal which includes some fats. I definitely find this to be true!
There are three main types, saturated fats, unsaturated fats and trans fats.
Which fats are bad?
Saturated fats are the bad guys. You can tell a fat is a saturated fat if it is solid at room temperature. These fats raise the total cholesterol level in our bodies, particularly the bad type of cholesterol, which is called LDL. You’ll find saturated fats in foods like butter, full fat dairy, palm oil and coconut oil.
Which fats are good?
Unsaturated fats are the good guys. They help to lower cholesterol levels. You can identify them as they will be liquid at room temperature. There are two different types, poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats.
The most common polyunsaturated fats are n-3 and n-6. It is so important to include these fats in your diet as the body has no way of making them by itself. It’s best to get your n-3 from animal sources, particularly fish, as this is the most efficient source. Plants have a slightly different form of n-3. It’s still good for us, but our bodies have a limited ability to convert the form from the plants into the correct n-3 out body needs, so marine sources are best. You can find n-3 in EVOO, fish, nuts and seeds.
Most of us get enough n-6 in our diet without going out of our way. It is in nuts, sunflower seeds and oils, soybean products and most spreads.
Mono unsaturated fats
Mono unsaturated fats lower the cholesterol levels in the body. They are a great option to replace saturated fats. Find them in avocado, nuts, EVOO, and peanut oil.
These fats caused me a bit of confusion. They are classed as unsaturated fats – this would make them good right? Wrong. Getting all technical for a minute, it turns out that they have the chemical structure of unsaturated fats, so technically they are, but they ACT like saturated fats by raising the bad cholesterol in our body. In fact, trans fats are double bad because they actually act to reduce the amount of good cholesterol in the body.
It can be tricky to identify what foods these fats are in because food manufacturers do not have to include them on the label (unless they make a specific claim about fats on the label). They are found in anything that has been deep fried, in pies and pastries, cakes and crackers. They are formed when oils are heated to high temperatures (at which point their chemical structure changes and they become unstable). So, the best way to avoid them is to avoid take-away and processed food and instead stick to a whole food diet.
The past few years has seen ongoing hype around the health benefits of coconut oil, being used for everything from homemade suncream to treating yeast infections. But is it really that good?
Let’s start at the beginning. How is it made? Coconut oil is extracted directly from the fruit of the coconut. It is 92% saturated fat, which is actually a higher content of saturated fat than butter. The frequently stated claim for its health benefits is that although it is a saturated fat, it acts more like an unsaturated fat in the body. This is because of a high content of lauric acid, which raises HDL, the good cholesterol in the body. In this sense it has a similar effect to unsaturated fats. However, studies have shown that it also raises the total cholesterol levels, including the bad cholesterol. Most of the other health claims revolve around the content of MCT’s (medium chain triglycerides) in coconut oil. These are beneficial for health however, these only make up 10% of the total fat content of coconut oil.
So, it is best to choose unsaturated fats like EVOO instead. Coconut oil also has no vitamins, and no polyphenol antioxidants, so when compared to something like EVOO, which is full of antioxidants and vitamins, it just doesn’t stack up. If you’re not convinced about this have a look at these papers:
Alternatively, choose to eat coconut in its natural state, that way you get the benefits of the fibre content, along with some carbohydrates and protein.
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